November 29, 2007

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Bear Hands, Golden EP
Freedom in Exile Records, Nov. 13
Papertrigger, EP
self-released, Oct. 31
Dirty on Purpose, Like Bees
North Street Records, Nov. 13
’Tis the season for alt-rock test-run EPs because the landscape’s too littered with best-of collections from the major-label Goliaths for indie bands to want to risk full 13-songers getting lost in the shuffle. In the case of these three half-lengths, any hesitation toward that end — as opposed to budget limitations — was for naught, as they’re all Good Things. Spin has also gushed over these three bands, but don’t let that stop you (someday, someone’s going to get a writer in the Spin bullpen to “review” a CD of twenty seconds of microwaved indie music followed by nothing but old men swearing and releasing gas in time to Frank Sinatra playing on the Knights of Columbus jukebox, and it’ll get four! stars!).

Brooklyn’s Bear Hands sound like an American Gang of Four with more compressed energy, like Dandy Warhols with a pulse or Cold War Kids without the weak choruses. Slammy surf-rocker “Long Lean Queen” comes decked out in sparkly woo-oohs, cascading shoegaze guitar and a crescendo-refrain you won’t feel idiotic singing along to. “Golden” itself has too-loud OK Go-like vocals over a rather unique half-Calexico/half-Stones guitar line. No overdoses of menace, ennui or wimpiness here, just solid stuff.

Philly band Papertrigger took the same alt-rock songwriting class as Franz Ferdinand, but they seem to have actual chips on their shoulders, like indie geeks with the DTs running around bending car antennae in the Irish pub section of town. To get the gist of “Fox Hunting,” you’d have to think of “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” overhauled by Kings of Leon and the resulting master-tape getting run over by a semi hauling jersey barriers.

Dirty On Purpose, from whom I receive more boilerplate email than anyone on earth, are those Brooklyn dudes we talked about last year who resorted to singing in a hideous falsetto because all the songs were written for a chick singer, but the singer ran off to join Au Revoir Simone, a band marvelously adept at creating boring indie rock. DOP have made a remarkable recovery with this chunk of five new songs, none of which are ruined by the unintentional-joke falsetto (a regulation-issue Hot Chick now sings the Hot Chick parts). A non-ruinous cover of Real Life’s “Send Me an Angel” sets an appropriate benchmark for the originals, etched in various shades of the psychedelica/shoegaze/twee you remember from earlier in the decade. Bear Hands: B+ Papertrigger: C+ Dirty on Purpose: B+ Eric W. Saeger